Less than two hours away from Dublin, Belfast was extremely high on my list of places to visit during my second trip to Ireland. Although plans for spending two full days in Belfast fell through, I jumped at the opportunity to join the Wild Rover Tours where I would visit the Giants Causeway, Belfast City and Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge in a day. After crossing the border into Northern Ireland (surprisingly, there are no signs), I had two options – the black taxi tour where a local guide walks you through Belfast’s political history or the Titanic Centre where you can learn about the construction, launch, and history of the Titanic. Since I love wall murals and knew little about Belfast, the black taxi tour was a no-brainer. I highly recommend this eye-opening Belfast wall murals tour for those looking to learn more about Belfast and the political conflicts that continue to shape this city but I must warn you, this tour isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Belfast Black Taxi Tour
During the black taxi tour, we toured West Belfast in a vintage 6-seater London-style black taxi. These taxis were used during “The Troubles” a period of conflict in Belfast from 1968 to 1998. We spent the majority of the tour exploring the Falls and Shankill Road but we also visited a few Remberence Gardens commemorating those who lost their lives.
Republications/Nationalists & Loyalists
When violence erupted in West Belfast in the late 1960s, two opposing religious/national communities lived in close proximity to each other – the Loyalist and the Republicans.
The Republicans/Nationalists who are mostly Catholic want to leave the United Kingdom and unite the 32 counties in Ireland (26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and 6 counties in Northern Ireland). On the other hand, the Loyalists who are mostly Protestant want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom.
When the minority Catholics/Nationalists took to the streets demanding civil rights like the right to vote (if they rented), better housing and police reform, “war” broke out among the groups and British security forces.
Over the decades, many lives have been lost. Throughout the conflict, more than 3,600 people have been killed and over 50,000 injured. Most of those who died were civilians killed leaving church, sporting events or in prison.
Although things have calmed down, the Belfast Peace Wall or the “peace lines” built to separate the Republicans and Loyalists still separates the two communities. To control movement, the gates are locked at night.
The government plans to remove the walls by 2023.
On the tour, my guide gave me markers and I left my mark on the wall.
I wrote a note for lasting peace.
Belfast Wall Murals
1981 Irish Hunger Strike.
End British Internment and Free Bilal Kayed – End Administrative Detention
Since there are over 2,000 documented Belfast wall murals since the 1970s, I’ve invited a few travel bloggers to share the Belfast wall murals that moved them the most. Each mural depicts aspects of Northern Ireland’s history and culture.
The Thought Card’s Pick
Cumann na MBAN
This wall mural depicts women playing an important role in the Rising.
“Cummann na mban” or “The Irish Women’s Council” collected funds for the nationalist movement, participated in training and helped with First Aid. Their goal was to advance the cause of Irish liberty and assist in arming and equipping Irishmen.
They also concealed weapons (ushered in from Germany), transferred guns and ammunition to safe hiding places, transported messages, and acted as liaisons to prisoners in jail.
The Union Defence Union
by Pure Wander
This mural depicts three groups in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Defence Union from 1893, the Ulster Defence Association from 1972 and the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF).
UFF is depicted by the man with the gun in the middle.
The UFF was its own group for a while as they were the ones who actually carried out attacks and defense moves against the IRA (The Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army). The UFF was later deemed illegal, but the other two umbrella organizations remain.
West Belfast I nDil Chuimhne Mural
(photo by Gypsy With A Day Job)
The slogan on this Belfast mural, “I nDil Chuimhne” loosely translates to “In Loving Memory.”
On March 6, 1988, three members of the Irish Republican Army youth were killed in Gibraltar by members of the Special Air Service. The funeral for those lost, Mairéad Farrell, Danny McCann and Seán Savage, was held in Belfast’s Milltown Cemetery, 10 days later. A huge crowd gathered for the services and burial.
Just as the caskets were laid in the graves, a lone attacker began tossing grenades among the mourners. Thomas McErlean, John Murray, and Kevin Brady were killed in this assault. The seventh victim was Kevin McCracken, also a victim of the Gibraltar incident, died on March 14.
In the mural, mourners for those lost stand in front of the Civil War Memorial, that stands in Ballyseedy, in County Kerry. IRA supporters viewed them as victims in the continued fight for freedom against British rule in Northern Ireland, and reunification with the Republic of Ireland.
West Belfast Fianna Éireann Mural
(photo by International Hotdish)
Roaming through Falls Road in West Belfast, you’ll sooner or later come across this mural of Fianna Éireann. It commemorates 100 years of the nationalist, Irish youth movement in the area, often called the youth division of the IRA. Started in 1909, Fianna Éireann has a long history of participating and aiding other nationalist Irish groups in their struggle against the British in the early part of the 20th century.
Over the years, they’ve worked with Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. And through that history, Fianna Éireann has been involved in running guns, marches, and other political movements. They’re still, in fact, active in 2018.
West Belfast Ulster 36th Division Mural
(photo by FlyAwayU)
If you’re visiting Belfast, you’re going to see more than a few painted murals featuring the Ulster 36th Division and the Battle of the Somme. This historical mural features both a tribute to Sir Edward Carson, the founder of the 36th, and a memorial to the over 2,000 men who died in the battle, on a building off Shankill Road.
Conscripted by the British government to fight in World War I, the Fighting Irish of the Ulster 36th Division broke through German lines after seven bloody days of battle. While many died in the charge from Theipval Woods by July 1, 1916, they remain heroes to many in Northern Ireland because they broke the German ranks when the British could not.
Have you been to Northern Ireland? What are your favorite Belfast wall murals?
Danielle Desir is a financially savvy traveler, 5x author, and podcaster. She paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27, and has traveled to 27 countries. She refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from living life on her terms. Listen to The Thought Card Podcast here.